Boaty McBoatface


NERC cammell laird research ship pic
Artist’s impression of the new polar vessel. Copyright Cammell Laird / BAS

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, what planet are you on??!!

Currently, Boaty McBoatface is the frontrunner by miles to win the online vote to name the new Polar research vessel being built in the North West for the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) which incorporates the British Antarctica Survey.

The £200 million science ship is due to set sail in 2019 and on 17 March the NERC launched its online competition to name the ship.

Usually, these Royal Research Ships (RRS) take their names from famous explorers, but that was before former BBC presenter James Hand made his contribution. Before long his suggestion Boaty McBoatface was soon topping the popularity stakes.

And in a dynamic illustration of the power of the internet, Boaty McBoatface had gone viral to the point the online competition website crashed with the name having clocked up 27,000 votes. The website is now back up and running and this evening the tally stood at 35,719. Looks like you can’t stop the onslaught of the Great British public when it makes up its mind!

Boaty latest voteA rather embarrassed Mr Hand even tweeted an apology to the NERC which assured him they were loving all the attention. The NERC, however, has reserved the right to make the final decision whatever the outcome of the vote.

But, seriously, the NERC could never have dreamed of scaling such PR heights when they first came up with the idea of an online naming competition. Of course, the interneratti are enjoying their collective snigger and pointing out ‘what do you expect when you put your fate in the hands of the internet?’

Catapulting science, research and British ship building centre stage, though, is actually a pretty good result and for that reason alone, the NERC should stick to its guns and opt for Boaty McBoatface, should it remain the favourite.

Not doing so could well incur the wrath of the internet and we all know how fickle the online community can be, you really don’t want to turn them against you. The internet has spoken and the NERC would do well to listen. Chances are a whole bunch of us will follow the journeys of Boaty McBoatface providing a way to engage the wider world in a bit of nerdy science and exploration.

And, let’s face it, doffing your cap to the great British sense of humour will endear the scientists to the nation for a very long time to come.

As well as the more serious suggestions like RSS David Attenborough, there have been a few joke names put forward such as RRS Pingu and RRS Usain Boat.

When the website crashed, Boaty McBoatface was 25,000 votes ahead of its nearest rival, RRS Henry Worsley and it’s now some 32,000 votes in front.

NERC twitter pageWhat’s now possibly the world’s most talked about ship in recent times is being built by the Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead on Merseyside. Once in service (let’s refer to her as ‘RSS Boaty McBoatface’), will be manned by scientists studying ice sheets, ocean currents and marine life as part of the British Antarctic Survey.

When the NERC launched the competition, it very conservatively suggested names such as Endeavour and Falcon.

The new ship will join the NERC’s existing two blue water research ships. The RRS James Clark Ross was launched in 1991 and is named after Sir James Clark Ross (15 April 1800 – 3 April 1862), a British naval officer and explorer. RRS Ernest Shackleton, launched in1999, is named after Sir Ernest Shackleton, the famous Polar explorer.

The NERC did publish some guidelines surrounding the competition. ‘We would like the name to be inspirational and about environmental and polar science, to help us tell everyone about the amazing work the ship does’, it said on its website.

In all seriousness, when ‘RSS Boaty McBoatface’ is launched, the UK will have the most advanced floating research fleet in the world helping place the nation at the forefront of ocean research for years to come.

‘RSS Boaty McBoatface’ will enable scientists to explore and research new areas of the Antarctic and Arctic seas. The Antarctic Peninsula and the Arctic are two of the fastest warming regions of the planet, and we urgently need to understand the impact of polar ice melt and its effect on climate, global ocean circulation, sea level, and the functioning of the ecosystems that regulate the planet’s life support systems.

At the time of the competition launch, universities & science minister, Jo Johnson, said: “Can you imagine one of the world’s biggest research labs travelling to the Antarctic with your suggested name proudly emblazoned on the side?”

No doubt, Mr Hand certainly didn’t!

The closing date for all entries is 16 April 2016. If you’re thinking of logging a vote or, like Mr Hand, you fancy throwing your hat into the ring, do the NERC a favour and don’t crash the website!

Finally, NERC, you can’t get more British than a little bit of eccentricity. Credit where credit’s due, Mr Hand and 35,000-odd others can’t be wrong. You gotta love us Brits and Boaty McBoatface embraces us as a somewhat quirky nation.



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